Lake County Might Ease Up on Marijuana Possession

(CROWN POINT) – A northwestern Indiana county near Michigan and Illinois is proposing to ease the penalties for marijuana possession after the neighboring states legalized pot use.

The Lake County Council endorsed an ordinance Tuesday that would give sheriff’s deputies the discretion to write a $50 to $250 ticket for possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana, instead of taking someone to jail. The ordinance can’t take effect without additional votes early in 2020, and would only apply to unincorporated areas, not cities or towns.

“I don’t want anybody to think we’re advocating for the legalization of marijuana. We’re not,” said county Council President Ted Bilski. “We’re trying to be fiscally responsible.”

Bilski said the county doesn’t have enough room in jail to house marijuana offenders.

“How do we not bog down our criminal justice system? How do we not overcrowd our jails?” he said.

Lake County borders Illinois, and Michigan is less than an hour away. Recreational marijuana sales are underway in Michigan. Illinois is next on Jan. 1.

The (Northwest Indiana) Times reports that possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor with possible jail time and a $1,000 fine, under Indiana law.

Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. said he likes the idea of giving officers more flexibility.

“You don’t have to take the time to take them off the road, to book them and all this, and the guy’s going to bond right out,” Martinez said of people caught with marijuana.

But Attorney General Curtis Hill said the county appears to want to get around state law.

“The enactment of criminal law is the province of the state Legislature, not units of local government. The courts have consistently upheld this principle,” Hill said.